A few years ago, the idea of finding reputable legal assistance on the internet would have seemed laughable, but now that people find other high-level professionals such as doctors, contractors and accountants for hire online, it's not at all far-fetched.
This guide is for small business owners who are seeking a full-service attorney or law firm but don't know where to start.
Ask for referrals first
Before you hit the internet looking for a law firm, ask professionals you trust who they use for their legal services. A reference from a trusted associate is worth more than dozens of positive reviews from anonymous online clients. When a peer recommends a specific lawyer or law firm to you, be sure to ask them when they last used the services and what types of services they used.
Check online attorney databases
Online attorney databases are not the same as online legal services. Online legal services are simply repositories for legal documents that also provide limited assistance as a service (and offer little to no guarantees). Online attorney databases, on the other hand, simply act as directories for local lawyers.
Some online legal directories have stringent standards for the lawyers who create profiles on their site, while others allow nearly anyone who passed the bar to post their information. The best online attorney databases have a process for filtering out unqualified candidates and a separate process for matching new clients with compatible lawyers.
Popular online attorney databases include Avvo, UpCounsel and Priori Legal. Here's how these three well-known websites work, but keep in mind that there are many other directories and matching services out there.
Avvo has been around for more than 10 years and allows users to search for lawyers based on location and expertise, as well as view reviews for those lawyers. According to Avvo, 97 percent of U.S. lawyers are present on the site, which, if accurate, makes it the most comprehensive database on our list. The caveat, of course, is that this means Avvo's attorneys are not vetted beyond their licensing. So, Avvo guarantees that the attorneys on its website are licensed, but that's all it guarantees. Avvo is kind of like the Zocdoc of lawyers, which makes it a decent place to start searching for an attorney.
Like on Avvo, the attorneys on UpCounsel are all guaranteed to be licensed, but not much other information on vetting is available on the UpCounsel website. UpCounsel works on a bidding model, so users seeking lawyers post their job on UpCounsel, and then wait for responses from interested lawyers. One benefit of this model is that it allows users to easily compare different lawyers, and it ensures that every lawyer who responds to a job is both interested in working with the poster and deems themselves qualified to handle that job's specific legal needs.
Founded in 2012, Priori Legal ensures that every attorney on its website has at least five years of experience practicing law and a mandatory minimum of malpractice insurance. Lawyers who apply to Priori Legal also go through an application process, a face-to-face interview process and reference checks. According to the company, only 20 percent of lawyers who apply are accepted.
When you contact Priori Legal, you fill out a form detailing your legal needs, and then a project manager from Priori, all of whom are what the company calls qualified lawyers, matches you with a few compatible attorneys. You can then review each attorney's profile, view their rates and then schedule a free consultation if you choose.
An online attorney-matching service or database can be a great jumping-off point for finding your business the legal help it needs, but it doesn't replace good old-fashioned research.
Once you have the names of a few potential lawyers in your area, you should request a consultation with each of them. Ask them what their primary mode of communicating with clients is, how you will be charged fees (and if there are any minimums), if they've worked with clients like you before and how long they've been practicing law. If they're part of a law firm, ask which other (if any) lawyers will be assigned to your account.
If anything doesn't sit right with you, if you don't feel listened to, or if you find any inconsistencies in the information the attorney presents about their professional background, keep searching.